Leave No Trace, LNT for short, is an ethical principle we live by and teach when spending time in the outdoors. We are extremely blessed to have Kenai Fjords National Park (KFNP) right here in our backyard and all the professionals whose job takes them into the park work tirelessly to keep the area free from the remnants of mankind. We are all, unfortunately, used to walking around outside and coming across plastic bottles, cigarette butts, and other forms of trash that were lazily thrown aside by some fool with no thought at all to what that does to the environment and the experiences of people who come across it later. One of my favorite things about Alaska is that it is still so raw...so wild, that many of the people here have not given up on doing their very best to limit the footprint of society on the epic wilderness that surrounds us.
Recently, Sunny Cove Sea Kayaking sent a 13 person kayak camping expedition into the remote Northwestern Fjord of KFNP for 5 days. With two guides and 11 guests, leaving no trace can be a difficult chore that includes multiple beach sweeps, constant organization, and making sure trash is compiled in one spot and returned to town at the end of the trip. And at the end of this adventure when our guides returned to the confines of the Seward boat harbor, everything had been brought back that was taken into the field. Well....almost everything. One item was missing...and that item was none other than the Wag Bag of lead guide Matt!
Context: What is a wag bag you might be asking yourself? Good question...in short, a wag bag is a bag for your poop. Everything that goes into the park, leaves the park...including human waste. Wag bags were designed to be used with a portable toilet to contain human feces in a sanitary manner in order to be brought back and disposed of properly. With increasing foot traffic in a national park consisting mainly of ice and water, it is important that the limited areas for beach sites do not be contaminated with piles and piles of poo.
Enter Matt, Sunny Cove's most senior guide in his 5th season leading trips. Matt by far as more experience pooping in the national park than all other guides combined. His skills for finding ideal views for pooping, putting up tarps for rain protection, and always carrying hand sanitizer is secondary to none. For Matt to lose his wag bag would be on par with Michael Jordan losing a basketball game to my 90 year grandmother...it just doesn't happen. Until it did! We have ourselves a mystery...
Matt knew his wag bag was lost pretty early in the trip, but couldn't come to believe he had misplaced his own feces. After retracing his steps countless times and walking the beach for hours, still no sign of his wag bag. What had happened? After going into his thinking stance for 20 minutes, Matt had the answer. One of his clients must have played a trick on him and hid his wag bag. That was the only explanation as it just couldn't be possible that someone with his experience would lose his own poop. Assuming it would turn up at the end of the trip as a practical joke, Matt used his spare wag bag and the trip continued on as planned. But as the trip came to a conclusion, the shocking truth hit him. This was no joke and his feces was in fact lost, all alone out there in the wilderness with no way to reach him. The two were separated forever...or so he thought.
The story could have easily ended there my friends, but what a sad story it would have been. Matt's fortune however was about to change! As luck would have it, a mutual friend of ours (to hide his identity, we shall call him Tim) was out in the park the following week. Enjoying an evening stroll on a beautiful beach with a huge glacier on the horizon, Tim noticed something that did not belong. What was it he wondered as he approached this squared shaped glimmering item. You guessed it, it was none other than the wag bag of our good friend Matt.
Now Tim could have easily disposed it with the rest of his own trash, but deep down, Tim knew how much a reunion of Matt and his wag bag would mean to so many people. With a small town feel in Seward, word had gotten around quickly of Matt's missing wag bag and Tim knew what he had to do: he would keep safe and protect the missing wag bag and make sure it was properly returned to its rightful owner so the whole town and especially Matt could breathe a sigh of relief. But easier said than done...
As Tim returned from his trip with wag bag in tow, fate was making it difficult for the star crossed lovers to be reunited. Alas, Matt had departed for a week long stint on Fox Island, 12 miles outside Seward and Tim had no means of transportation to get Matt's wag bag there. All could have been lost in that moment, but the author of this blog, me, had a moment of reckoning. As luck would have it, I would be going to Fox Island the next day and could bring the wag bag with me to deliver to Matt. I just had to do it. I don't know how, but I knew that I had been waiting my whole life for this moment. I gladly took Matt's week old bag of poo, got on the boat, and made my way to Fox Island.
Upon arriving on the island, Matt was greeted with a group of 8 guests that he and I would be taking out on the water. I knew the reunion at that time would be so monumental that it would affect the start of our trip so I did the next best thing. I stuck his wag bag in the back of his kayak so like a surprise birthday party, he would be startled in the middle of a trip to discover the missing piece of his soul that would make this the best day of his life. And ladies and gentlemen, that is exactly what happened. He tried not to show it, but I could tell a tear ran down his cheek when he discovered his missing wag bag and experienced a reunion he never thought would happen. Most people doubted this reunion would ever happen, but Matt proudly exclaimed, "You can't stomp on love!"
I am very proud to have played a role in this reunion. Without the help of so many selfless people, Matt and his poop would still be separated. But the mystery was solved and life can move on. In the continental United States and much of the world, there are pockets of wilderness amongst civilization. But up here in Alaska, there are pockets of civilization amongst the vast wilderness. And if there is a lesson for all you folks out there that read through this whole thing, it is this: don't leave your crap out in the wild where it don't belong; it will always come back to find you.